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Procrastinator
February 10th, 2006, 06:09 PM
Hi!

This is actually the intro to a book I'm working on. It's technically fantasy, but will have a pretty "street-level", sorta "Micky Spillane-ish" vibe.

Let me know what you guys think.

Thanks for looking! :-)

-Joe


Stefano awakened with a start, his mother’s soft hand over his mouth.
There was no candle, only the merest slash of moonlight across her brilliant blue eyes had allowed him to recognize her at all.

“Shhhh…”, she said. You must be quiet, my dearest. I need you to get dressed as quickly and as silently as you can”.

“What’s wrong, Mamma?” he asked.

“I’m not sure, little one”, she replied. “But something is not right. Some men arrived a few moments ago. Your father is outside with them, now.”

Though already eleven years old, almost a man grown, The boy had to struggle with himself to remain calm. He dressed as his mother had asked, his face a false mask of cool composure all the while.

“Some men…” He puzzled. “Are they Rangers? Maybe they have to ride out together in the morning, and they came to rouse him.”

Raquelle hoped that was the truth of it, though she had her doubts. Her best guess put it five hours till sunrise. Had it been his fellow Rangers, she would doubtless have recognized at least a few of them. Further, if they were setting out with the dawn, they would have unwound their bed rolls downstairs, and gotten what precious little sleep that they could before leaving.
She moved slowly to the window, and peered through the small slit in the shutter. From this vantage point, she could see the back of a man on a white mare. There were no marking that she could see on the man’s saddle, nor on the back of his tunic.

Suddenly, it occurred to her that this rider carried no bedroll at all, nor could she see the quiver that should be hanging of the back of a Ranger’s saddle. This man was no Ranger. She doubted that the others were, either. But who were they?

Her son joined her at the window. A bit small for his age, he had to stand up on a stool to see. He had managed, for the most part, to get the better of his anxiety, but were he being honest, he would have to say that having his mother by his side helped immensely. He was further comforted by the delicate scent of Violets, his mother’s favorite perfume.

“That’s a pretty horse, isn’t it?” asked his mother. “Maybe, when you’re grown, you’ll ride one just as fine. A Ranger should have a swift horse, you know.”

He smiled his sideways smile; the one that he always displayed when he knew something that someone else did not.

“Yes, but perhaps a Black or Chestnut”, he said gently. “No Ranger would ever be caught dead on a White one. It’s beautiful, but a blind man could see it a mile off.”

She should have reasoned that straight away, she realized. These were definitely not those that she had been hoping for, and though she could not make out any words that were being said, the tone seemed to be turning toward unfriendly, with the occasional shout rising above the crackle of the log downstairs in the fireplace.

Better to be safe than sorry, she thought.

“Stefano”, she whispered, “I want you to bring me the sheets from your bed.”

“My sheets, Mamma? Are you cold?” He reached instead for his thicker-and warmer- blanket.

“No dearest. The sheets, please.”

Stefano watched as his mother carefully knotted his sheets together. She tested her work, found the knot acceptable, and then affixed one end to the wall sconce mounted next to the window. She opened the latch, then, placing one hand on the shutter while holding the latch with the other, swung it open in complete silence.
Leaning out just a bit, she could see that the man that she had spied earlier had moved, leaving them a clear path to the woods.

Raquelle bent down, and locked eyes with her boy. It always seemed that her own ice-blue eyes stared back at her when she looked at him. He was so much like her, with those blue eyes, and hair of raven-black, though the serious expression that he always wore belonged to his father.
“You and I are climbing down, my darling. We’ll make our way to the woods, and return when we’re sure it’s safe.”
Stefano gave a small start: “What about Papa? We can’t leave him all alone!”
“Shhhhhh!” she placed a single finger over his lips, and smiled. “Your father will be fine I’m sure”, she consoled him, “Is he not the best Ranger in the land, and the Rangers the finest unit in all the Emperor’s forces?”

That seemed to appease him. His father was the best. Everything would be all right, and in the morning he will have forgotten all this, as if it were only a bad dream.

“Wait here”, his mother instructed, “I’ll go and put on more suitable clothes, and then we’ll be away.”

The boy nodded, gravely.

He checked over his mother’s handiwork - Always be double-sure, his father would say- and found it to be secure. He looked about for his cloak -it was cold out at night-, but remembered that it was downstairs, on his peg near the back door. “I’ll just have to tough it out”, he thought.
He also looked for anything that might be usable for a weapon, but again had no luck. This did not overly concern him for a couple of reasons: For one, he knew that this wasn’t something that his mother would likely forget. She, like his father, was very thorough. The second reason was that his father had always taught him that a person’s mind is the greatest weapon of all, far keener than the edge of any mere blade. As long as they were able to keep their wits about them, they would be able to think their way through any obstacles that might arise.

Moving back to the open window, he glanced about for any sign of the late-night visitors, but saw nothing save the faint glow of their torches from the east side of the house. Then, from downstairs, he heard the loud crack of breaking wood- the bar to the door- and the sound of heavy boots stomping across the stone floor of the great room. The slap of leather on the stone was replaced by the hollow thump of wood as they reached the stairs, followed by the quick padding of a smaller set of feet in soft leather shoes flying past his door, and then the sharp ringing of steel. His mother had joined the fray. Whoever these men might be, they would not find her an easy mark. She had learned her way around a rapier years ago, at her father’s insistence, and had forgotten nothing.

Stefano was halfway to his door, when the din abruptly ceased. Instinctively, he froze where he was – not even breathing- and strained his ears to hear what he hoped would be a signal from his mother.

“Take the child as well”, he heard instead, ordered in a deep, sinister bass voice.

“Yes, Sir!” echoed another, followed by more footsteps, then by fierce pounding at his door, as the eerie glow of torch-light seemed to peer from underneath.

“Unbar the door, you little cur”, bellowed the voice. “Whether you open this door, or I kick it down, you’re coming with us. The harder you make it for me, the harder I’ll make it for you”.

Franticly, his eyes checked them room again for something –anything- that he might use for a weapon. In the end, all that he could lay his hand upon was the lamp that his grandmother had gifted him with on his birthday. It was a very poor weapon, but there was nothing else at hand. He hoped that a shard of it might find its way into the intruder’s eyes, though he knew that that would be asking a lot of a fancy crystal lamp.

He flung the thing as the hinges gave way, missing his target. Instead, the fragile glass burst on the top of the doorjamb, raining its volatile contents down upon his pursuer, whose head and shoulders were immediately engulfed in flames. Stefano recoiled in horror, as the man sank to his knees, clawing frantically at his face. The boy stood rooted there until the sounds of more attackers heading in his direction brought him back to the moment. He had to go.

Later, he wouldn’t remember bolting from the window, down the knotted bed sheet, or at what point he reached the safety of the forest. He wouldn’t be able to gauge how long he crouched there shivering in that light dusting of snow, with only his fury for a blanket, as he watched his family’s home reduced to ashes. He would not be able to guess how long he waited there until he was certain that it was safe to go back to see if there was anything to be saved.
He couldn’t say that he had any idea what he would do next, after finding his Father slain in the front yard, his hands tied behind his back, his head missing from his body, and no sign of his Mother, save the deep purple ribbon from her hair.
But, of a certainty, on that day of searing loss, his parents, his sanctuary, and even his innocence -at eleven years and twenty six days old- was the last day that he ever cried.

choppy
February 10th, 2006, 07:34 PM
Hi Procrastinator,

You asked for it.

Line-by-line observations:
Though already eleven years old, almost a man grown, The boy had to struggle with himself to remain calm. (1) You might want to indicate that 11 = almost a grown man either in the infant's eyes or in the social setting of this world. (2) you don't need to capitalise "The"

Raquelle hoped that was the truth of it, though she had her doubts. This seemed like a shift in point of view when I read it, as the frist few paragraphs appeared to be from Stefano's POV.

“That’s a pretty horse, isn’t it?” asked his mother. “Maybe, when you’re grown, you’ll ride one just as fine. A Ranger should have a swift horse, you know.” It doesn't seem like she's trying to be quiet at this point - as indicated earlier on. The dialogue deflates the tension.

“No Ranger would ever be caught dead on a White one. white

“I’ll go and put on more suitable clothes, and then we’ll be away.” I can't tell if I love this line or hate it. If you mean for this character to come across as ditzy, then it's great. I wonder if she'll take the time to do her hair and put on her make-up too. Overall it takes away from the dramatic tension of a mother and son having to steal away into the night.

Franticly, his eyes checked them room again for something the room

General Thoughts:
Not bad at all for a first attempt at a fantasy story. I think the strength in this lies in the dramatic tension created from the start - a child wakes up to find that men have come in the night for his father and possibly he and his mother as well. Lots of desperation there. I pointed out a few spot above where you take away from that though, so you may want to consider revising a little to draw the reader right in to the situation. Tighten the dialogue to essentials and keep it moving. Focus on a single character's point of view for such a short scene and by that I mean try to stay in the headspace of a single character. This rule can be broken effectively, but I find more often than not it's a good idea to adhere to it.

Cheers!

Procrastinator
February 11th, 2006, 09:23 PM
Thanks for taking the time to offer some "constructive criticism", Choppy.

I was thinking of using this as my opening...Attention grabbing, and all that...but now I'm thinking that won't work.
I need to go ahead and establish who these characters are beforehand. That'll put the reader more "on the hook" emotionally, and give these events more weight.

I think you have some valid points, especially about the One POV Rule. I'll try to make some revisions this evening.

Thanks again!

-J

Expendable
February 12th, 2006, 02:34 AM
It's a good opening, pulls the reader in. Some minor problems here and there.



Stefano awakened with a start, his mother’s soft hand over his mouth.
There was no candle, only the merest slash of moonlight across her brilliant blue eyes had allowed him to recognize her at all.

“Shhhh…”, she said. You must be quiet, my dearest. I need you to get dressed as quickly and as silently as you can”.

“What’s wrong, Mamma?” he asked.

“I’m not sure, little one”, she replied. “But something is not right. Some men arrived a few moments ago. Your father is outside with them, now.”

Good opener.


Though already eleven years old, almost a man grown, The boy had to struggle with himself to remain calm.
"The" shouldn't be capitalized. This sentence is a little clumsy - really just a simple attempt to set the character's age. I'm not sure how important it is for us to know the boy's age now.


“Some men…” He puzzled. The 'H' in 'he' doesn't need to be capitalized.
"Some men...?" he puzzled.


Raquelle hoped that was the truth of it, though she had her doubts. Her best guess put it five hours till sunrise. Does she possess a clock? I can see it being the middle of the night, but five hours is incredibly precise. Plus this changed POV causes some confusion.


Her son joined her at the window. A bit small for his age, he had to stand up on a stool to see. He had managed, for the most part, to get the better of his anxiety, but were he being honest, he would have to say that having his mother by his side helped immensely. He was further comforted by the delicate scent of Violets, his mother’s favorite perfume. Excitement is now anxiety? The last two sentences are telling, can you show some of this as well? The POV changed again.


“Yes, but perhaps a Black or Chestnut”, he said gently. “No Ranger would ever be caught dead on a White one. It’s beautiful, but a blind man could see it a mile off.”
The colors don't need to be capitalized here, they're not proper names of a horse, just a description.


She should have reasoned that straight away, she realized. These were definitely not those that she had been hoping for, and though she could not make out any words that were being said, the tone seemed to be turning toward unfriendly, with the occasional shout rising above the crackle of the log downstairs in the fireplace. POV change. I like how you mention the shout - that's usually enough to make people worried. Can you show us anything else to suggest she's scared?


She opened the latch, then, placing one hand on the shutter while holding the latch with the other, swung it open in complete silence.
Leaning out just a bit, she could see that the man that she had spied earlier had moved, leaving them a clear path to the woods. Isn't this the same window she was using to spy on the visitors? There's nothing to tell me this is a different window or the men below have moved from the line of sight.



Moving back to the open window, he glanced about for any sign of the late-night visitors, but saw nothing save the faint glow of their torches from the east side of the house. Why did they move from the front of the house?


“Yes, Sir!” echoed another, followed by more footsteps, then by fierce pounding at his door, as the eerie glow of torch-light seemed to peer from underneath. How did they know it's his dor? This sentence seems clumsy.


“Unbar the door, you little cur”, bellowed the voice. “Whether you open this door, or I kick it down, you’re coming with us. The harder you make it for me, the harder I’ll make it for you”. Who barred the door? His mother was just through it a moment ago.


But, of a certainty, on that day of searing loss, his parents, his sanctuary, and even his innocence -at eleven years and twenty six days old- was the last day that he ever cried.
POV switch again - but from the boy to the narrator. Again some amazing precision timing - why do we need to know the boy's eleven years and 26 days old? Is it important to the story? Personally, I'd say to cut this last paragraph. It doesn't appear necessary.

Why does the Emperor's most important Ranger live so far outside of the city? Why are there no neighbors? Why are there no servants or hired men? Why are there no relatives? Why is there no additional rangers?

Do you get what I'm asking? Why does this family live isolated?

All in all, you've got a good start for your story.

choppy
February 13th, 2006, 02:12 PM
There's always a little bit of a balancing act in figuring out how much information to give the reader up front. Too much and you assult your audience with an "info dump." Not enough and they don't know what's going on.

The rule of thumb is to dole out information on a "need to know" basis.
(I think by adding some polish, the piece you posted will be fine.)

Merancapeman
February 13th, 2006, 05:55 PM
No need to "chop" it up, seeing as how choppy and Expendable did that already. However, I want to ask you if you had done some prior writing before this moment. My first attempt at fantasy writing was poor, but this doesn't seem to need as much work as mine did.

You seem to have a good grasp on seeing your scene before you put it into words. Grammar has been pointed out, except for the use of commas. Try to simplify sentances a little and try not to add unneccessary information; getting rid of some commas will help. For instance, when you say "He had managed, for the most part, to get the better of his anxiety, but were he being honest, he would have to say that having his mother by his side helped immensely." You don't really need too many commas, or you can form it to make more sense.

"He had managed, for the most part, to get the better of his anxiety. Were he being honest, however, he would have to say that having his mother by his side helped immensely." In this case you only got rid of one comma, but it made a little more sense for the price of a period and the word "however". It makes it less confusing.

------------------------------

“That’s a pretty horse, isn’t it?” asked his mother. “Maybe, when you’re grown, you’ll ride one just as fine. A Ranger should have a swift horse, you know.”

He smiled his sideways smile; the one that he always displayed when he knew something that someone else did not.

“Yes, but perhaps a Black or Chestnut”, he said gently. “No Ranger would ever be caught dead on a White one. It’s beautiful, but a blind man could see it a mile off.”


This conversation suddenly cut the mood off. A moment ago, things felt suspicious and a little spooky, and now the mother seems to be trying to make conversation. Granted, nothing bad has happened yet and it isn't incredibley important to change, but that whole conversation isn't entirely too neccessary to take place. Perhaps insert the boy's thoughts on the matter, mentioning how odd it would seem to have a white horse, but the mother's say in this matter isn't important and she is probably a little too tense about the situation - or else she wouldn't have woken the boy up.

There isn't much more to go into because the others seem to have already beaten you up about it ;) However, I will say one last thing. Very, VERY minor in fact. You seem to sort of show expression by the way they say it, but perhaps you need to show some visuals. For instance...

“Shhhh…” she said with a sense of urgency, "You must be quiet, my dearest. I need you to get dressed as quickly and as silently as you can”.

As he peered further into the darkness, he could see that she was frowning. “What’s wrong, Mamma?” he asked.

You're doing really good. I'm not going to spoil the experience, but I will say you will have a long, hard and fun time writing this book. Remember, you've got to commit yourself. If you find yourself losing interest, do a little something else for a little while and come back to it. If you still don't like it, work on something else entirely and attempt to commit to that, setting your other work down and saving it for later.

;)

By the way, Expendable, I noticed your skills in grammar. I wonder if you could help me out a little. See, I have incredible difficulty with quotation marks and capitalization; when to capitalize it and when not to. I've struggled with that situation for the longest time. I even read "The Elements of Style" and still didn't get much about that problem.

Sincerely,

Confound/Merancapeman

sfxfantasy
February 13th, 2006, 09:13 PM
I'm very new to writing myself but here goes.

I like the way you show the scene so the reader can visualize it. It does draw me in as a reader. The mom and child dynamics, the emotions are there. My first thought was that it was a LOTR fan fiction thing. The opening reminds me of Aragorn's childhood though.

The story sounds promising. If you think it is not working, you can always rewrite it again and again until you are happy with it.

Expendable
February 14th, 2006, 02:14 AM
By the way, Expendable, I noticed your skills in grammar. I wonder if you could help me out a little. See, I have incredible difficulty with quotation marks and capitalization; when to capitalize it and when not to. I've struggled with that situation for the longest time. I even read "The Elements of Style" and still didn't get much about that problem.

Sincerely,

Confound/Merancapeman

Put an example in the grammar thread, we'll talk.

-Ex.

Procrastinator
February 17th, 2006, 10:25 PM
Thank you, one and all, for all your comments. I especially appreciated your helpful examples of how I could improve. That's the kind of extra effort that really helps a guy like me: The kind that hasn't had an English class in 20 years, and hasn't even glanced at a style manual...(Yikes!!!)

To answer Merencapeman's question: No, I have never done any "serious" writing before (If in fact you can call this effort serious), but my third-grade teacher always said that I should... ;)

I was unaware of the similarity to Aragorn's origins in LOTR, as, unbelievably, I have never read the books! :o :o :o

This story will center on the character of Stefano. It will chronicle how he goes from a "perfect son" to a stone-cold killer, and how he is saved by the unconditional love of a good woman (Cue "Stand by Your Man"...).

BrianC
February 24th, 2006, 03:24 PM
Procrastinator, I like very much the story that you have planned. Fantasy writing is filled to the brim with stories about the anti-hero recruited by the curmugeonly old mentor and destined to undertake the impossible quest to defeat the overwhelming evil and save the world. I'd look forward to a story about how a bad guy (or gal) gets that way and how they become redemmed. Just remember, there can be no redemption without suffering.